Polyamorous Middle Child Syndrome: Being in the Second Oldest Relationship

3 people sitting on a couch (it appears to all be the same person). They are wearing the same plaid shirt and blue jeans. The ones on the left and right and facing each other, with a tense expression on their faces. The person in the middle is hunched down, facing forward with their head in their hands.
Image by Brandon Atkinson / CC BY

The Worst of Both Worlds?

“So he let me know that another girl asked him out and he said yes,” she says. “And I want to be happy for him, but…”

“But?”

“We haven’t been together that long,” she says. “It’s hard with his dating someone new so soon.”

I nod.

“Like, I’m fine with his wife,” she continues. “And this new girl is great, I just… I don’t know. It makes me worry.” She shakes her head. “I bet I sound crazy.”

“Not at all,” I say. “He’s been with his wife a while, hasn’t he?”

“Yeah,” she says.

“So she’s a known quantity. She was there when you showed up. You knew where you stood with her in his life.”

“But this new girl is a complete unknown. She could be a game changer,” she says.

I nod.

“I just feel like it’s the worst of both worlds. Don’t have the commitment or the demonstrated security of the long-standing relationship. And I’m not going to be the new shiny anymore,” she says. “It’s like middle child syndrome.”

Middle Child Syndrome

When Alfred Adler first suggested birth order theory as a way of understanding the development of personality, he identified a phenomenon known as middle child syndrome. Adler asserted that middle children often feel very left out and practically invisible compared to their siblings. Older children make their mark by being the first to accomplish things. And younger children are often babied. But middle children? Get lost in the crowd. They have a harder time feeling special.

And while the scientific validity of birth order theory has been questioned (e.g., see Rohrer, Egloff, & Schmukle, 2015), I’ve definitely seen these kinds of patterns in polyamorous relationship systems.

It can be extra trying when you’re not established as an anchor partner and your love starts to date someone new.

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Please see this post for ways to work through feelings of insecurity.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s so true! I’m in that situation. Most of the jealousy resources are from a “primary” perspective. And very few seem to acknowledge that time allocation may shift dramatically for a “middle relationship” when a new metamour enters the picture, while the nesting relationship may be relatively unaffected.

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